September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

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Moshiach Did Not Arrive—Again

I pray that the above headline will supplant “Dewey DefeatsTruman” as the classic illustration of the dangers of prediction. (I’m writing before TishaB’Av.) But I’m pretty sure it won’t. Not after watching footage of police rescuing a haredi man who made the mistake of wandering in his IDF uniform into Mea Shearim on the way to visit relatives. He had to barricade himself in a building after being surrounded by an angry mob, and required a phalanx of policemen to get him out.

The phenomenon of haredi soldiers in uniform, or even out of uniform, being verbally accosted and made to feel otherwise unwanted has spread far beyond Mea Shearim. Wall posters against “hardakimharedim da’atkal) can be seen in haredi neighborhoods around the country, with religious soldiers in uniform portrayed as missionaries. These attacks by haredim on one another recall nothing so much as the bitter internecine fighting in Jerusalem that preceded the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Kokis once pointed out at a convention of Agudath Israel of America, that then, too, those attacking their fellow Jews did so in the name of their greater faith. The zealots destroyed the firewood and water that would have permitted Jerusalem to withstand siege for years, in order to force a direct confrontation with the vastly superior Roman forces, and they accused Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and the chachamim of lacking faith in Hashem’s power.

As the Netziv (Devarim 32:5) writes of that period, “Most of the killing was done for the sake of God. …It was difficult to separate the good from the bad since the bad was done for the sake of Heaven.”

If today we again find such bitter divisions within the haredi community itself, can we really hope that the sinas chinam for which we entered this long galus will soon end?

THOSE INTERNAL DIVISIONS are the result of a confluence of three trends within the Torah community. The first is the tendency to identify ourselves with ever more narrowly defined subgroups within the community, and to look askance at all those who are outside our sub-group.

One unfortunate by-product of the phenomenal growth of Torah Jewry in the last fifty years is the luxury of making distinctions out of fine differences. A friend who has authored several lomdishe seforim commented recently, with evident nostalgia, of the Chicago of his youth, in which there were only two categories of Jews—Shomer Shabbos and not Shomer Shabbos. Yes, there were differences in religious standards between one family and another, but being Shomer Shabbos joined them all together. Today, we focus more on what divides us.

For years, there have been prominent voices (though not, it should be emphasized, Torah leaders) in the Israeli haredi community constantly seeking to impose various litmus tests of their own creation to determine who is really haredi and who is not. Before the hardakim, there were “new haredim.”

True, there are wide variations within the Torah community. Those variations are not themselves a cause for concern. What is of concern is the tendency to view negatively all those whose ideas and conduct are not exactly like our own. Again the Netziv speaks to our generation, in his famous introduction to Bereishis, Sefer HaYoshor, when he describes the lack of uprightness of the generation of the Churban: “They suspected whomever they saw who did not conduct himself according to their opinion in Yiras Shomayim of being a heretic.”

A SECOND NEGATIVE TREND is a too ready assumption that the ends justify the means and the resultant coarsening in our speech and conduct. Too often we abandon the voice of Yaakov and act with the hands of Esav. When we do so, we not only make attainment of our immediate goals less likely, but also diminish the honor of Torah in the world.

It is a tragedy of the highest magnitude that the most frequent images most non-religious Jews have of haredim is of faces contorted in rage, like members of a certain religion whose adherents are easily aroused to lethal violence.

When we act as one would expect from a Jew who frequently reviews the famous Igeres HaRamban, speaking “only words of gentleness to every man and in every situation,” the impact is overwhelming. The sight of a hundred thousand haredim gathering to recite Tehillim in a rally against the Supreme Court more than a decade ago drew much favorable comment.

Contrast the impact of that demonstration to that of haredim burning garbage cans and ripping up street signs in their own neighborhoods, like urban rioters in Newark or London.

Have we had a more respected and effective Knesset representative of the haredi community than the late Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, who always conducted himself with dignity and mindful of the Chazon Ish’s instructions to weigh the potential gain from every single word against the potential loss? Has bombast done more for our community or the image of Torah?

On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, thousands of Beis Yaakov girls filled the women’s section in front of the Kosel, as they davened and recited Tehillim. The image of so many pure young girls was overwhelming. The women and girls conducted themselves in perfect accord with Rav Aharon Leib Steinman’s instructions: He explicitly conditioned the prayer gathering on the absence of violence of any kind. The impact of the women’s prayer was marred only by the antics of some of their male counterparts screaming at the Women of the Wall.

This past Rosh Chodesh, however, a small group of girls also found time to scream and insult those they identified as belonging to the Women of the Wall. Among those they cursed was one of the Jewish world’s leading women teachers of Torah, and the two founders of Women For the Wall, at whose initiative the mass prayer gatherings at the Kosel began. The girls had seen them speaking to the press two months earlier and embracing some members of Women of the Wall, in an effort to draw them close with “chords of love,” and decided that they were Reform.

The tragedy here is not one of mistaken identity, but of the damage to those girls’ souls from acting in a way not befitting them. Even had the targets of their threats been members of Women of the Wall, their Tehillim—the Kol Yaakov—would have had more impact on the Women of the Wall themselves, on the world media, and certainly Klapai Shomayim.

FINALLY, WE MUST NOT BECOME an exclusively fear-driven society—fearful of any contact with the outside society, fearful of governmental decrees. True, the fears are well-based and must enter our calculations. At the end of time, things speed up, and that is certainly true of the degeneration of morality in contemporary society. And the precarious economic situation of the Israeli haredi society renders it particularly vulnerable to government cuts from every direction at once.

But we cannot give in to hysteria. When hysteria takes hold, the most extreme elements in society, even if they are a minority, take over. That is what happened just preceding the Churban. Further, the more hysterical we become the more susceptible we are to being viewed as the Boy Who Cried Wolf, even in the eyes of our haredi brothers abroad.

We could use a little injection of confidence as well—confidence in the power of our Torah education to help us stand up to nisyoynos that are an inevitable part of life and confidence in our power to spread the light of Torah to our fellow Jews when we conduct ourselves as Jews shaped by Mesilas Yesharim.

To describe service in the IDF as ipso facto an act of shmad is to give vent to hysteria. The gedolim always sharply criticized those who sought deferments from service for which they were not qualified for endangering those who were entitled by virtue of their full-time learning. And when I served as editor of the English Yated Ne’eman more than 20 years ago, Rav Shach made clear that any staff member not entitled to the “toras ou manaso” deferment had to register with the IDF.

It is true that the IDF has been since its inception an instrument of socialization. And it is equally true that no haredi parent would contemplate sending a son into a regular IDF unit, as currently constituted, for reasons so eloquently laid out by Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky… .

But the IDF it is not only, or even primarily, an instrument of socialization. The IDF is also vital to the defense of the lives of six million Jews. Of the three thousand Jews from every tribe who went to battle against Midian, only one thousand were exclusively devoted to prayer. It is ridiculous to think that a 26-year-old avreich, who can no longer feed his family and seeks advanced training and the possibility of steady long-term employment, is deliberately subjecting himself to spiritual destruction by entering the IDF’s Shachar program.

The IDF work environment is almost certainly far preferable to any he could hope to find in high-tech. And that he is also filling crucial manpower needs of the IDF, and thereby contributing to the defense of six million Jews, can only be positive, no matter what one’s ideological or theological stance towards the State of Israel.

And for a floundering 18 or 19-year old boy from a haredi home, who is currently doing nothing, or worse, with his life, the gender-segregated Nahal Haredi combat unit often offers him a much better chance of developing the self-esteem and self-discipline that he is presently lacking, and which make his return to a life of Torah and mitzvos more likely. Rather than ostracizing him or staring past him when he returns to our neighborhoods—both of which responses he has likely experienced too frequently in his life—we should greet him warmly and view him as someone who is on a path of aliyah.

If in the next year calm is restored, and the ostracism and violence towards haredim in uniform ceases, I will approach next TishaB’Av with much more confidence in its transformation into a Moed of rejoicing.

By Jonathan Rosenblum (reprinted with permission from Jewish Media Resources and the author)

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